ENGL 103 B06: Contemporary Graphic Literature


In today’s rapidly evolving literary landscape, graphic literature has emerged as a dynamic and influential medium that transcends traditional boundaries. This course, ENGL 103 B06, titled “Contemporary Graphic Literature: Surveying the Field,” delves into the fascinating world of graphic novels. In this exploration, we will unravel the rich history, diverse genres, and cultural significance of contemporary graphic literature.

The Evolution of Graphic Literature

Graphic literature, as an art form and a mode of storytelling, has a long and intricate history that predates contemporary graphic novels. Its origins can be traced back to prehistoric cave paintings and ancient hieroglyphics. However, the modern form of graphic literature, as we know it today, can be attributed to the emergence of comics in the late 19th century. Iconic figures like Rodolphe Töpffer and Richard F. Outcault paved the way for a revolution in the medium.

The Golden Age of Comics, which spanned from the late 1930s to the early 1950s, witnessed the rise of superheroes such as Superman. These characters became cultural icons, and their stories captured the imaginations of readers, defining an entire era. However, the comics industry faced censorship and scrutiny during this period.

The Underground Comix movement in the 1960s and 1970s challenged these restrictive norms. Pioneered by artists like Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton, underground comix were characterize by their countercultural themes, social commentary, and explicit content. This era marked a turning point in the history of graphic literature, as it demonstrate the medium’s potential for addressing serious issues and pushing boundaries.

The Birth of the Graphic Novel

The term “graphic novel” was popularize in the 1970s, with Will Eisner’s groundbreaking work “A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories” often cited as the first graphic novel. This marked a significant shift in the perception of comics and illustrated narratives. No longer confined to children’s entertainment, graphic novels could now tackle complex themes.

Art Spiegelman’s “Maus,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel published in 1986, is another pivotal work in the history of graphic literature. It told the story of the Holocaust through anthropomorphic animals, offering a unique and powerful perspective on a deeply tragic historical event. “Maus” elevated the medium to a new level of recognition and respect.

The Modern Graphic Literature Landscape

In the 21st century, graphic literature has diversified into a myriad of genres and styles, making it a dynamic and versatile medium for artistic expression. This diversity is a central focus of ENGL 103 B06, as it seeks to survey the vast field of contemporary graphic literature. Some of the prominent genres and themes explored in this course include:

Superhero Narratives

Superheroes continue to dominate the graphic literature landscape, with characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Black Panther capturing the hearts of readers worldwide. Contemporary graphic novels often deconstruct the traditional superhero narrative, delving into the complexities of heroism, identity, and power.

Autobiographical and Memoir Comics

Graphic literature offers a unique platform for artists to share their personal stories and experiences. Works like Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home” and Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis” use the medium to explore issues of identity, family, and self-discovery.

Science Fiction and Fantasy

The realms of science fiction and fantasy are richly explored in graphic literature. Works like Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” series and Jeff Lemire’s “Sweet Tooth” demonstrate how graphic novels can transport readers to imaginative and otherworldly settings, while also addressing profound philosophical and existential questions.

Social and Political Commentary

Graphic literature has become an essential medium for addressing social and political issues. Art Spiegelman’s “In the Shadow of No Towers” and Joe Sacco’s “Palestine” employ the visual narrative to provide powerful commentary on contemporary global concerns.

Graphic Adaptations

Classic literature, both fiction and non-fiction, has been adapted into graphic novels. These adaptations offer a fresh perspective on familiar stories, making them accessible to a broader audience. Works like Gareth Hinds’ “Beowulf” and Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” in graphic form are notable examples.

The Significance of Graphic Literature in Modern Culture

Graphic literature has gained widespread recognition and critical acclaim in recent years, cementing its place in modern culture. Its significance lies in several key aspects:

Visual Storytelling

Graphic literature combines the power of visual art with narrative storytelling. This unique fusion allows for a more immersive and emotionally resonant reading experience, making complex ideas and emotions accessible to a diverse audience.


Graphic novels and comics are often less intimidating to reluctant readers, making them an excellent tool for educators and parents.

Diverse Representation

The medium has enabled the exploration of diverse characters, voices, and perspectives, often challenging stereotypes and promoting inclusivity. This diversity is particularly relevant in the modern literary landscape.

Academic Study

Graphic literature has become a subject of academic study, with courses like ENGL 103 B06 dedicated to examining its history, cultural significance, and artistic value. This has legitimized the medium and attracted scholarly attention.


ENGL 103 B06: “Contemporary Graphic Literature: Surveying the Field” offers a comprehensive exploration of this dynamic . As we have seen, graphic literature has a rich history, with roots in ancient art forms and a modern evolution . It encompasses a wide range of genres and themes, allowing artists to tackle diverse subjects and explore profound narratives.

The significance of graphic literature in modern culture cannot be understated. It combines the visual and the narrative to create a unique and emotionally resonant storytelling experience. The medium is also accessible, making it an excellent tool for promoting literacy and inclusivity. Furthermore, graphic literature has found a place in academic study.

In conclusion, ENGL 103 B06 introduces students to the world of graphic literature. With its power to inspire, educate, and engage, graphic literature.

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